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Toll-free traffic to be no picnic over holidays


10:40, September 17, 2012

China's new policy that exempts passenger cars from road tolls during holidays is expected to spur unprecedented road traffic during the country's upcoming Golden Week holiday.

The public, including the country's 236 million licensed drivers, will be exempt from about 10 billion yuan (US$1.58 billion) in highway tolls during China's longest-ever eight-day Golden Week holiday, running from September 30 to October 7.

The policy will greatly benefit people planning to drive themselves to their holiday destinations, but it will also generate massive traffic pressure, said Chen Xiongzhang, a communications researcher with Guangxi Normal University.

In early August, the State Council, China's Cabinet, approved a plan to lift road tolls for passenger cars taking highways during major Chinese holidays.

Passenger cars with seven seats or less and motorcycles will get a free pass on toll roads, bridges and tunnels during the Spring Festival, Qingming Festival, Labor Day and National Day, said the notice issued by the State Council on August 2.

People have long complained that toll gates cause highway traffic jams during national holidays. Tolls take up 30-40 percent of expenses incurred by those driving themselves to destinations throughout China.

An online survey conducted by Sina and Tencent, two major Chinese web portals, revealed that nearly 80 percent of respondents have planned to drive to their holiday destinations.

Some Internet users have posted a "money-saving travel map," showing exactly how much toll money will be saved when the policy is in effect.

Meanwhile, the policy has also encouraged more people to rent cars for their holiday journeys, according to some major car rental companies.

In previous years, the holiday travel rush would peak in the first two and last two days of the Golden Week, but the new policy is expected to see the rush extend throughout the entire holiday.

Nearly all trunk roads to provincial and regional capitals and popular tourist destinations will be congested, Chen predicted.

China has not set up a complete transportation information collection system encompassing the highway, railway, aviation and shipping sectors. The lack of this system makes it difficult for government authorities to evaluate and guide traffic pressures. The upcoming holiday will offer the country a chance to form an advanced traffic management system, he said.

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